Jon Rose is Founder of Waves For Water, a nonprofit organization that works on the front-line to provide clean water to communities in need around the world. CATALYST speaks with Jon about their Hurricane Irma Relief Initiative.
Can you summarize the devastation of Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean and the most urgent needs of the region?
It's not dissimilar to Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Wherever the eye hit is 90% to 100% complete annihilation, left uninhabitable. There are reports that because the storm was so big, within the eye there were 2 or 3 full scale tornadoes—big enough to pick up barges and place them out of the water. These are some of the first-hand accounts we have been getting from our pretty vast network down there. The needs are pretty straightforward. It's a super unsettling predicament. It’s not a big land mass where one piece of it got hit and where you have road access from places that didn’t. Instead you have got all these isolated little islands, they become like little prisons in a sense, you can’t get off them, there’s no electricity, there’s no shelter, there’s no food or water... huge safety concerns. And this is just the reality…. until agencies can figure out how to fill in the gaps, whether it be through extractions or supplies, until they can get a concrete system in place, local people are pretty much on their own.
What is the situation regarding access to clean water on the ground at this time?
It's dire. Basically, the structures in the hardest hit areas like St. Martin, the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands have been taken out... people are going to local aqueducts or streams or ponds, filling up and boiling water.
We know that the poor populations in these areas have been most affected, can you tell us a little more about this?
The British Virgin Islands, US Virgin Islands and French Caribbean are known for their luxury resorts but the one thing we have become really aware of is the forgotten pockets of need. The very underserved local communities are where often times the resort workers actually live, and a lot of them are shanties bordering on slums. They don’t have proper infrastructure and are least equipped to handle the storm. We experienced this a lot in Hurricane Odile in Los Cabos, you have so many big resorts and so much tourism and when that hurricane came through it was all the ‘colonias,’ little villages set back away from the ocean that got demolished—because they were not proper houses, they were small pockets of people living on the poverty or below the poverty line. We see that all through the Caribbean. Those are the places hardest hit by Hurricane Irma and those are the places that we are going to focus on.
Where will you focus first in the Hurricane Irma Relief Initiative?
I don’t like to name the exact locations because of safety precautions, but I can give you islands, we are focusing on the British Virgin Islands, the US Virgin Islands and a few of the French Caribbean islands. That’s going to be our primary focus. We are staging out of one of the islands that did not get hit as hard, it’s relatively unscathed.
How long do you expect the recovery effort to take?
Years in some places. The one benefit I see to this whole situation is the Caribbean is shared by a bunch of different nations so there is not one nation bearing the brunt of it all, which is good. In any disaster there is always the disaster response team and there is some collaboration there. Some countries will be better at responding than others, we’ve got the US in the game, the French and the Dutch in the game, we have got the British in the game.…. It will be years before everything gets back to the way it was or better. But these things take years, there are still people feeling the effects of typhoon Haiyan, there are still people feeling the effects of the earthquake in Haiti.
Are you accepting volunteers to work on Hurricane Irma Relief efforts, what would you recommend to those who might want to get involved and help.
We are not accepting volunteers because of the safety concerns. It’s super unstable. There are planes landing that have to leave within 10 min of landing because people trying to hijack the planes. We are bringing down our team—which are all people from the region, or know the region inside and out, and/or are veterans for what we do. For this first phase, we are just establishing the right channels and building local networks. In later phases we may open it up to volunteers, but right now the best thing for us it’s mainly funds and awareness, the funds help us scale and reach more islands.
How can people donate to your efforts with Hurricane Irma Relief?
We have our project page on our website here, it has a breakdown of our initial plan and the why on there. Donations can be made to that fund which will go directly to our efforts in the field working on Hurricane Irma.